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Virgin Islands Gardeners Reap Benefits

AARP volunteers Sally Browne and Martha Bruce are nurturing their green thumbs while reducing the cost of their groceries. Many retirees search for things to occupy their time, but amongst these ladies’ regular activities like volunteering and traveling, they are now trying home gardening. While it takes commitment, it doesn’t take too much time or investment, yet the results could help save dollars on groceries and put food on the table.

Sally and Martha are two seniors who were selected last summer to participate in a special program being sponsored by the Agriculture Department, WSTA Radio and the VI’s local public broadcasting station, WTJX. The program is being conducted on all three major islands within the VI, but Sally and Martha are two of the 16 St. John residents who applied and were accepted to the program.

At the core of the program is the premise that vegetable gardening can be done by anyone, and that you don’t have to have a large quantity of land to meet your needs or a whole lot of time to devote to pulling weeds, watering pots or fertilizing plants.

The program was meant to demonstrate how gardening could be adapted to any environment. Program participants have come from varied geographic locations on each island and expressed a desire for different gardening experiences.

“The first thing we were asked,” said Browne, “was what type of gardening we wanted to do.” Gardening in the VI can be done in pots, grow-boxes, traditional ground gardens, terraces, and even in old tires. Each type of garden comes with its own set of requirements to attain success. Sally chose to garden within boxes.

“We were also asked what types of vegetables we wanted to grow,” continued Browne, “We could have selected from tomatoes, green peppers, beets, lettuce, cucumbers and various herbs. I chose tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and herbs.”

The Agriculture Department provided participants with soil, manure, sprouted plants and technical assistance. Participants only needed to make a firm commitment to following through with the project and provide water.

Browne says although she plants a garden every year, she hasn’t had luck with peppers. “This program provides essential technical assistance that gives me the opportunity to expand and try new things,” said Browne, “the technical assistance has empowered me. I have the opportunity to email an issue or problem to a representative of the Agriculture Department. The response has been great. He usually telephones me that evening to discuss the problem and offer potential solutions.”

As the economy continues to affect people’s ability to stretch their dollars, gardening makes sense. “People in the Virgin Islands always had gardens to help feed their families,” states Browne, “it’s as though we’ve come full circle. Money is once again tight and more people are going back to growing their own food.”

During the planting, growing and harvesting seasons, representatives from the agencies sponsoring the activity visit the gardeners at their homes to interview and video tape their progress. The sponsors are creating a film documentary based on participants’ experiences.

Thrilled with her harvest, Sally says the best part of the project is the freshness of the produce. “Tomatoes, for instance, are very expensive if you are trying to get the best tasting ones”, said Browne, “but even those very expensive ones can’t compare to the taste of fresh tomatoes picked right from my very own plant grown in my backyard.”

Sally Browne and Martha Bruce are truly reaping the benefits of their labor.

Find out more online: Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture

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